The winter of our discontent

We’re a little short of sons of York (new or otherwise) around these parts. It is also the middle of our winter. Short days, cold, a lot of wind and rain. What should be ideal writing weather, because the temptation to do anything else is somewhat lessened.

Since when did we let that stop us from being led astray? And the bleakness is depressing, I admit. Still, I am progressing at more or less 2K a day – which is not great for me, but acceptable. But I’ve hit the part of the book which I always struggle with – and struggle not to let my struggle run onto the pages. The slough of despond – around 1/3 in when that has been slog and endless ‘path-decisions’ (if you have character do x at this point, what logical path will they follow if face with Y at a later point). It’s also all about that crucial foreshadowing in the initial segment – which makes the later part of the story flow logically and make sense. Usually by 1/3 I have established the baseline characteristics and inserted at least two of the minimum 3 foreshadow cues I will use.

And you sit down at your desk and think… Would anyone like this story? Can I sell it? Is this just good time thrown after bad? I’m sick of it already and I still have 2/3 go… and so on. If I am going to stick anywhere, this is where it happens. And there is a real risk of if the story is going to trickle off into meh, this where it happens – not because the story is necessarily bad, but because it is very hard not to have my mood reflect in my writing. Look, I am at 25 books now, some of which have done rather well, and I still hit this. If you’re different: great, I am pleased for you. If not: well…These are the things I try. They may not work for you.

Go back to the start and read it. Nine times out of ten I find 1)I actually DO enjoy the story. 2)Now I have that much of a structure, I can see infill points that need doing…. oh look, now they’re done I am 40% done – somehow, mysteriously the the end seems more reachable.

Consider another point of view. So often when I have been ‘stuck’ what is wrong is the missing point of view of another (possibly minor) character. Even if they are not a point-of-view character, a scene with the POV character and them often helps.

Re-read the book or books (or type of book) that inspired you to this story in the first place. No: my story is NOT the same, but it does help to refresh the ‘spirit’ of the book/author I am channeling. I find some of my inspirational authors (Michael Scott Rohan, Roger Zelazny, Tom Sharpe, Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien spring to mind). It does affect my ‘voice’ and re-inspires me.

Music too can be huge factor – perhaps just for me, but my house is very silent – I am alone, a long way from any other human (suits me) and, while silence reduces the distraction, it does get to oppressive.

Explain the story to someone else. Maybe even get them to read the first bit (my first drafts are dreadful, I’d rather explain – although I want them to read it). That often shakes it loose for me.

Lastly, go outside, even if it is raining, cold, miserable, and the only job you can find that gives you an excuse is right up there with licking the septic-tank clean. Your imagination needs that noodling time. It also helps that going back to your desk may become attractive!

Do you hit the same thing? If so, how do you move on?

13 comments

  1. I hit that roughly 3/5 of the way in. I have a sense of the ending, but the book is dragging, and has too little action and/or description, and how to leap that chasm to “climax! Boss fight!” I have no clue. The characters sull up and won’t help, and readers will hate it!

    So I do chores, or work on music, and then come back. I put rump in chair and start writing filler, or description of a moment. I may scrap it later, but they are words, and that leads to the words I need.

  2. I think it’s easier with a series book. The characters are familiar. You always bring in a fresh face or two but you aren’t building new personalities. The timeline of the whole series is set and you are just filling in the details and creating some interesting events.

  3. I hit those in outlining and it generally means I am mistaken about what happens next.

  4. “Do you hit the same thing? If so, how do you move on?”

    To quote Walt Longmire, “Boy, howdy.” Mind, I am writing history, but if you don’t have POV characters and story arcs in that you get a very dull book. I am writing popular history, not academic history, so the story has to engage the reader.

    I am a little luckier than a fiction writer in that when I get stuck , I can stop writing the text temporarily while progressing on other aspects of the book (collect interior images, develop maps and instructions for the artists doing original artwork and mapmakers – that kind of thing). Or work on sidebars. Also, I don’t have to worry about the plot. I cannot change that, no matter how tempting.

    Also, having done this for 20 years I realize when I do get really stuck, it means my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I have overlooked something important, Missed an important point or overlooked something important. Or (worst of all from my standpoint) come to an incorrect conclusion.

    Often, I try and do more research or re-read my sources. Usually I’ll talk over the facts with some friends and relations that are as into history as I am. (A lot of these conversations take place over the internet.) Or bat ideas back and forth with my editors. (They are a good source of getting answers to questions I need answered. “Hey, Tom, do you know someone who can help me out out the type of bolts used to assemble M4A1 tanks?” And he comes back with, ask Joe. His e-mail is. . . .)

    Or I just push on and write something down I know that stinks. then come back to it later and do cleanup on aisle 13. The problem always seems obvious after I have written the words down and come back later.

  5. I’m having one of those right now. I don’t know what happens next, so I can’t write it.

    For me this usually means writing lots of irrelevant scenes that I end up taking out later. Robot girlfriend and her human go to the store, werewolf at the cafe, stuff like that. Sometimes it leads somewhere useful, sometimes not.

    Today would be a great opportunity to get back to fixing the busted lawnmower, except I aggravated my knee (fixing the lawnmower) and I have to wait for it to settle down.

    But, eventually, I’ll think of something and it’ll all come rushing out. I figured out who the bad guys are the other day, that was nice. I’ve been asking myself “what kind of a-hole would do such a thing?” and finally thought of one. ~:D

    1. I’ve done that too. The thing I was beating my head against started out with a breakfast domestic scene. Ended up deleting the whole thing and starting way later in the events.

      On the upside, it did give me a good starting point for another one. And because I’ve already got what their nice little domestic breakfast normally looks like, it was much easier to write the disoriention or realizing something is seriously wrong in the middle of it.

  6. Still working in short story from at the moment, but definitely running into sections that are just a slog to get through. Sometimes it’s just a thing I don’t really understand. Sometimes it’s just I haven’t developed the character motivation. Sometimes it’s just travel time that has to happen but isn’t that interesting on its own.

    Finding the right music helps for problems with emotional tenor, if I can find the right music, and that can become an exercise in cat rotation too.

    Sometimes it helps to write some of the cool sequence that the transition leads up to.

    Sometimes I just have to keep hammering words out and go back to fix it later.

    This last story was definitely like that. Probably going to have to make two revision passes on it before it’s ready to be seen by other people.

  7. It’s a bit comforting to know that even after 25 books, an accomplished author that I admire still can bog down in the middle and even get tired of his story. I’m not exactly bogged down, and this third book in the trilogy even wrote most of its plot points for me, but there’s still so much I don’t know. And my pace is also slow (2k a day seems about the same for me), which means I’ll be at this forever. Today it’s pouring, and I have a cold. I’m tired physically and mentally.

    I follow most of your suggestions, already, though I’ll add one: read another writer on the writing life! It helps to know I’m in good company. 🙂

  8. Now that useful conversation has tapered off, the silly observation I’ve been having for every single comment that hits my inbox can be shared:

    I keep reading the title as “Discount Tents.”

    Which would be quite miserable, yes.

Comments are closed.